“Moonshots,” mind exercises, and “breakthrough” sessions.
That may sound more Silicon Valley than United Nations, but that’s what’s happening this week at the AI for Good Global Summit at the ITU Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland as global leaders meet to discuss how to use the unprecedented capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) to speed progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“The changes initiated by AI will be fundamental,” said Audi CEO and Chairman, Rupert Stadler, as he kicked off the Summit today with his “Moonshot” keynote speech. “Therefore, all of us have to work together to make sure that AI is used for good.”
The Summit, which is co-hosted by ITU and the XPrize Foundation, aims to advance the development and democratization of AI solutions that can address specific global challenges related to poverty, hunger, health, education, the environment – and many others. And, given the exponential computing power of AI to build scalable solutions, the energy in the room during the opening sessions was palpable.
“AI is a new frontier. This Summit is the beginning of a new journey,” said in ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao. “It’s a platform for all of us to develop concrete proposals and ideas to leverage the power of AI to tackle humanity’s greatest challenges.”
XPrize CEO, Marcus Shingles, stressed the importance of the exponential change that we are witnessing today with AI computing power.
“We are living in exponential times, not linear,” Mr Shingles told an engaged audience. “We are hitting an inflection point, where computing power is hitting a ‘knee’ in the curve. It will disrupt industries. It will disrupt governments, and we’re seeing it already.”
The problem, said Shingles, is that most people – including political and industry leaders – are trained to think in a linear fashion. It is difficult for humans to think in the exponential terms that are needed to manage the type of changes now coming with AI.
Shingles said that he often carries this message for leaders: “Disrupt yourself before you get disrupted … or ‘Uber’ yourself before you get ‘Kodaked.’ Most CEOs know what we mean by that.”
In a video message, UN Secretrary-General, António Guterres, also stressed the great change underway with AI, and raised some of the ethical issues involved, which will also be a focus at the Summit.
“AI is already transforming our world, socially, economically and politically … but there are also serious ethical issues at stake. The implications for development are enormous,” said Guterres, warning that developing countries face the highest risk of being left behind. “The UN stands ready to be a universal platform for discussion.”
In the first plenary session on the current state of play of how AI is affecting life and organizations, Peter Lee, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft AI and Research, talked about how machine learning still today requires a tremendous amount of craftsmanship (engineering labor) to build new models due to its inability to adapt itself. But breakthroughs are coming, thanks to open innovation.
“What is really important in the democratization of AI is to build the tools that allow innovators the ability to innovate,” said Mr Lee. “Microsoft as well as many other of the tech industry’s largest players have been racing ahead trying to do this.”
Lee gave an example of the development of books and the invention of movable type, and how that had a transformative effect and laid the foundation for the Renaissance period. “We may actually be in a similar period today with the emergence of practical machine learning AI,” said Lee, “but we mustn’t forget also the challenges and disruption that this could cause.”
To help put the current changes of AI in context, Jürgen Schmidhuber – often referred to as “the father of modern AI” – gave the audience an overall view of the past evolution and future trajectory of AI.
Mr Schmidhuber paced the stage using humor to engage the diverse audience in a recap of how “long short-term memory” and neural networks-based technologies have become the building blocks of AI, and are now being rapidly developed by the world’s most valuable public companies, including Microsoft, Apple Google, Amazon.
Within the next few decades, we will have AI that is comparable to humans, and soon after that, super humans, he said.
For now, there’s Sophia, the humanoid robot that will take center stage at the Summit tomorrow.
“Where AI is leading us will depend on us – or so to say on human intelligence.” – Rupert Stadler, CEO, Audi
“This past summer, I got to know Sophia. The conversation with her was really fascinating,” said Audi CEO, Stadler. “Sophia made me think: The more intelligent machines become, the closer we will live together with them. And the more we will let them decide. This raises a couple of questions for me: Will we develop an emotional link to robots one day? What will be necessary that we start trusting them? Will we trust more if they look like ourselves? And finally: If robots will be able to think, what then will make us humans unique?
“Let’s keep an eye on these questions,” Stadler urged. “Let’s develop a common understanding of how to handle AI. The future is something that we collectively shape by necessity. That is why I am honored to have had the chance to talk to you all at this Summit. And to share a spirit of embracing change. Because in the end, what makes us human is our ability to reflect on how technology will drive progress. Where AI is leading us, will depend on us – or so to say on human intelligence.”
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